I actually read through the FTC guidelines several weeks ago and I’d been meaning to do a post about it, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Luckily, Jack submitted a question about the FTC and it was finally time for me to get my ass in gear!
I’ve been hearing a lot about FTC disclosures on blogs. I’m pretty new to blogging, so what is an FTC disclosure? What do we need it for?
Thanks for the question, Jack! Nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. I’m not a lawyer and all I did was read through the various FTC documents. Everything in this post should be considered my interpretation of the FTC guidelines and nothing more!
What is the FTC?
The FTC is the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC Act was created in an effort to prevent unfair or deceptive acts in business. As book bloggers, we can be considered marketers for books, and as such, parts of the FTC guidelines do apply to us!
What is an FTC disclosure?
An FTC disclosure is a way of revealing information about your post/review in an effort to maintain transparency and be as open and honest with your readers as possible.
So why do bloggers need to disclose things? Well, we need to start disclosing information when we get involved with publishers. Publishers send out ARCs and free books as part of marketing campaigns, so when bloggers receive those books, we become part of their marketing plan. We are marketing the book on their behalf by reviewing it on our blogs.
Because we now have a relationship with a publisher, and because we received a free product in exchange for our marketing “services” (a review) we need to disclose that to our readers, since it may affect how they feel about our review.
I think the same thing can be said for working with authors. If an author gives us a copy of his or her book for free in exchange for a review, then we need to disclose that to our readers.
When and what do you need to disclose?
Of all the text and jargon in the FTC guidelines, I think this quote from “Example 7” explains it best:
Example 7: A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or “blog” where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review. Because his review is disseminated via a form of consumer-generated media in which his relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious, readers are unlikely to know that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact likely would materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge. The manufacturer should advise him at the time it provides the gaming system that this connection should be disclosed, and it should have procedures in place to try to monitor his postings for compliance.
Federal Trade Commission, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising
Although they’re talking about a video game reviewer, I think this was the only example that could clearly relate to book reviewers! Because ultimately they’re referring to someone with a personal blog who reviews products (in that case—video games, but in our case—books). I think the same thing is applied to us. Here’s what they’re basically saying:
A guy has a personal blog where he posts about his experience with a product (in this case, video games). This person has a lot of readers on his blog and they value his opinion on gaming hardware and software. One day, the manufacturer of a video game system sends the blogger a free copy of the system in exchange for a review on his blog. The blogger tests it and reviews it favorably. But, because his blog isn’t advertised as being “in partnership with this video game systems manufacturer” or something similar, it’s not obvious that he has any kind of connection to the manufacturer. Therefore, he needs to disclose it in his review. He needs to clearly say that he received the video game system free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
- If you get a free book in exchange for a review, you need to disclose that fact.
- You need to clearly and conspicuously state that the book was received free of charge.
Where to put your disclosure
Now, additionally, I read the document on Dot Com Disclosures. This document had another example that related to blogging:
The blogger in this example obtained the paint she is reviewing for free and must disclose that fact. Although she does so at the end of her blog post, there are several hyperlinks before that disclosure that could distract readers and cause them to click away before they get to the end of the post. Given these distractions, the disclosure likely is not clear and conspicuous.
Page A-25, Federal Trade Commission, Dot Com Disclosures
This example specifically talks about where you need to put disclosures. Their point here is that her disclosure is at the bottom of the page, below all the links, and therefore is is inadequate. It’s not clear and it’s tucked away. People could read her entire review, then click away on one of the links to be taken off-site before even seeing her disclosure. That is not acceptable to the FTC.
So what I take away from this, is that disclosures must be placed at the top of your review, before any links.
- Disclosures in sidebars or footers are NOT sufficient because people don’t know if that disclosure is applicable to this particular post.
- Disclosures on a separate page (like a page called “Policy” or “Terms” or “Disclosure”) are not sufficient, because they do not appear on every page.
- Disclosures must be individually placed on posts they are applicable to.
- Disclosures must be placed at the TOP, before any links.
What happens if I don’t follow these guidelines?
Let’s be honest, book bloggers are like a speck of dust in the internet world. In all likelihood, nothing will happen if you don’t follow these guidelines. But, something could happen. Things like FTC disclosures are policed by consumers. If people complain about your blog and your disclosures (or lack thereof) to the FTC, then you could get in trouble and taken to court.
What if I live overseas?
The FTC has no jurisdiction outside the United States. If they receive big enough complaints about your blog, but you are outside their jurisdiction, the FTC may choose to go after the US-based publisher who’s giving you free books (if there is one). But if both you and the publisher you’re receiving books from live outside the United States, then I think you’re both free from any kind of court summons.
Although it’s unlikely that a book blogger would get in trouble for violating FTC guidelines, I suppose it’s one of those things where it’s better to be safe than sorry. So if you get a book for free (from an author or publisher) just put a note saying so at the very top of your review, before any links.
There are a lot of people who have disclaimers in sidebars or in their footers, and technically those are now considered insufficient.. but if want to risk doing it that way, that’s up to you and in all likelihood you probably won’t get in trouble for “violating FTC guidelines”.